Salted Sweet Corn Ice Cream

A quick note: I originally shared this post and recipe for Salted Sweet Corn Ice Cream back in 2011 on Real Simple magazine's website, but after a redesign a few years ago, the article and recipe were deleted. With summer sweet corn season around the corner, I've decided to share it again here. I know the flavors might seem a little unusual, but I promise--they're amazing!

My husband and I have a favorite restaurant that we return to again and again on those evenings when we’re craving a night out, but don’t want to risk the chance of a bad meal at an untried spot.

We love this place for their big strong drinks, savory seafood dishes, and salty chips. The only problem? Their desserts are terrible! Seriously, seriously bad stuff. From chalky flourless cakes to stale churros, we’ve worked our way through the entire dessert menu in vain, each time with the hope that perhaps this dish will be good.
After about seven-too-many disappointments, we were ready to admit defeat and planned to request “just the check” when the waiter casually mentioned a new dessert special. Our ears perked up as he described a trio of ice creams in unusual flavors—salted cajeta (a Mexican goat’s milk caramel), blueberry cream cheese, and—wait for it-- sweet summer corn! With a hopeful glance at each other, we took a chance and ordered it.

The blueberry and caramel flavors didn’t really live up to their descriptions (How could they mess up caramel?!), but the sweet corn ice cream was a revelation!

Cool, sweet, and buttery with that delicate, yet unmistakable flavor of fresh corn in every bite. It reminded me of the sweet spoonbread I grew up eating at church potlucks and the handfuls of buttered popcorn jellybeans my mom and I would share on trips to the mall.

It was like summertime and nostalgia all wrapped up into one cool and creamy treat, and I could not get enough.

For days after that dinner I daydreamed about sweet corn ice cream and it wasn’t long before I started working on my own version of it at home. I wanted to recreate the dish I’d had at the restaurant, but had the idea to add some salt for that classic sweet-and-salty buttered corn at the backyard cookout kind of flavor.

Not wanting to use just milk as that can often produce an icy result with home ice cream makers, I decided to try thickening the base with cornstarch; essentially creating a simple pudding that I could then churn into ice cream. This is a technique that I’ve used successfully for a few other ice creams in the past and which I love for both its ease (no worries about scrambled eggs!) and the extra silky feel of the final product.

The results were brilliant! Sweet, summery, and buttery, with that perfect hint of salt that I’d imagined. I served the ice cream in little vintage ice cream cups topped off with a few fresh corn kernels and some crushed hazelnuts, the latter which I thought worked really well to bring out the natural nuttiness of the corn.

Loved this recipe? Here are three other easy ice cream recipes you might like:

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Salted Sweet Corn Ice Cream Recipe
When selecting fresh corn, look for plump ears with tight, green husks that feel cool and a little bit moist in your hand. Note that the natural sugars in sweet corn start converting into starch the minute its picked so buy the freshest ears you can find and be sure to use them within a day or two of bringing them home.

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 cups whole milk + ½ cup whole milk, divided
3 ears of fresh sweet corn, shucked & cut into 2-3 pieces each
½ cup + 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1 vanilla bean, whole
1 teaspoon good flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
3 tablespoons cornstarch

Combine the heavy cream, 3 cups milk, corn, and vanilla bean in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Let simmer very gently for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so. Turn off the heat, remove the corn and use a knife to slice the kernels off the cobs. Return the corn kernels and cobs to the hot milk mixture along with the sugar and teaspoon of salt, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Cover and let cool to room temperature, about one hour.

Remove the cobs and the vanilla bean, and transfer the milk and corn kernels to a food processor or blender (or use a stick blender) and puree until fairly smooth.  Pass through a fine sieve into a clean pot, pressing out as much liquid through while removing all the solids.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the 3 tablespoons cornstarch and remaining ½ cup of cold milk until smooth. Add to the strained mixture and place over medium heat, stirring constantly in one direction until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Continue to cook and stir for 2-3 minutes until you can no longer detect the taste of cornstarch. Turn off the heat and transfer the thickened corn base to a clean bowl. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface (this will help prevent a skin from forming on it while it cools) and chill in refrigerator for 3-4 hours.

Process the chilled mixture in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Serve immediately for soft-serve texture, or transfer to a freezer safe container and let freeze for 2-3 hours before serving for a firmer ice cream.

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